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'Pivot, pivot, pivot' | Restaurant owners react to St. Louis' return to full capacity

As leaders drop pandemic restrictions, restaurant owners say other issues continue
Credit: Sara Machi

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — The bar at Malone's is filling up with the regular crowd, but the memories are coming down. Patrons are claiming pieces of memorabilia — photos from the wall or logoed tap handles — as their favorite watering hole prepares to close up shop.

"We're going to have a life. I can't work 100 hours a week," owner Steve Schafermeyer said.

The decision to close comes just hours before St. Louis City and County leaders announced they would allow restaurants to return to full capacity. But Schafermeyer says they pulled through the worst of the pandemic restrictions and face a new problem: staffing.

Schafermeyer says they had back-to-back record-breaking years before the pandemic, calling 2020 "a record year the wrong way." Sales have now rebounded over pre-pandemic numbers, but — like many restaurants —Malone's doesn't have enough staff to keep up, so Schaftermeyer is retiring with one last party.

"The juice isn't worth the squeeze," he said.

As Malone's front door closes, another opens.

"I mean, I think everybody's keyword from last year was 'pivot, pivot, pivot,'" Chef Nico Shumpert said repeating the mantra.

Shumpert will open a new event space, The Spot on Grand, this Friday. Just days before their launch, he received news of the expanded capacity, with mixed reaction.

"I don’t know if packed rooms scream 'safe,'" he said.

With seating for 99, he plans to keep his own ticketed events at half-capacity but expects some hosts will want a larger guest list. He said smaller numbers will also be easier for staff.

"It hasn't been a challenge yet, fingers crossed," he said.

As Malone's prepares for last call, Schafermeyer said he's looking forward to the next chapter, one full of grandkids, fishing, and golfing.

"We're going to have a good time and not cry," he said. "It's a new beginning. Not the end."

Schafermeyer said another restaurant owner — also short on staff — has already offered to hire any of Malone's employees after their last shift Tuesday.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.